When I open my patio doors and breathe in the delicious scent of my neighbour’s mock orange, with its pretty white flowers cascading conveniently over my garden fence, I know that summer is really here.
The delicious smell of this flowering shrub may only last a couple of weeks but for me it’s one of the most memorable events of summer and there are varieties to suit most gardens, from the golden mock orange Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’, which can be used to light up the back of a mixed border, to the more compact P. ‘Manteau d’Hermine’, which grows to just 75cm (30in), bearing masses of heady cream flowers and ideally planted next to a seating area in a sheltered spot where people can enjoy its scent to the full.
Of course, on the patio you are spoiled for choice with scented plants. Those which will grow happily in containers include night-scented stocks, clove-scented pinks and scented pelargoniums in the Fragrans Group, which have leaves with the aroma of lemon, orange and mint.
Herbs too will provide you with scent as well as flavour, including lemon verbena, Eau de Cologne mint (Mentha x piperita f. citrata), lemon thyme and fragrant rosemary. All these need to be touched to release their fragrance.
Sweet peas will also grow happily in a pot, trained up a wigwam, to give you not only fragrance but plenty of colour as well. Cut the flowers regularly and put a bunch on your patio table or even indoors if you want the scent inside as well. Cutting is essential with sweet peas if you want more flowers to appear throughout the season, as, if you don’t cut them, the flowers will form bean-like pods, which send a message to the plant that flowering is over.
If you’re after low-maintenance scent, pots of lavender will provide you with plenty of fragrance as well as attracting bees, and just need shearing to keep neat immediately after flowering. However, keep heavier scents such as lavender separate from other scented plants as otherwise it will dominate the group.
Plants whose scents will blend together beautifully in the border include lilies, phlox, sweet Williams, nicotiana (tobacco plant), sweet peas and nepeta (catmint).
For optimum fragrance, go for old-fashioned varieties of nicotiana, such as N. alata, which folds up its petals during the day and comes to life only at night. Modern dwarf varieties may look better but they don’t have as much scent.
Similarly, I prefer old-fashioned roses which are in a bed, as I’ve never found that patio roses give as much scent-wise. Among my favourite roses for the border is the David Austin English shrub rose, Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, which bears stunning large, rosette-shaped pink flowers and has an outstanding perfume, as well as strong stems and a neat, compact shape with flowers produced throughout summer. It can be grown as a climber, reaching a height of around 8ft, and will do well combined with clematis.
Of course, there’s also a plethora of scented climbers which are ideal for positioning near a door or pathway, or close to opening windows where their fragrance can be enjoyed from inside too.
Obvious choices include scented honeysuckles, climbing roses and common white jasmine (Jasminum officinale), which can reach 8m (26ft) and produces clusters of simple, white trumpet-shaped flowers from early summer to autumn if planted in well-drained soil in a warm, sheltered spot, ideally on a south-facing wall.
With just some of these choices, hopefully you’ll be able to fling open your patio doors and inhale the scent of summer, day or night, come rain or shine.
BEST OF THE BUNCH - Gazania
Walking around my local garden centre the other day, I came across small pots of gazania for just £1.50 and thought what a lot of bold colour you can buy for a snip. These tender perennials are normally grown as half hardy annuals with bold, daisy-like flowers in shades of bright orange, yellow, through to dark mahogany red, that have wide petals, usually marked with darker rings or stripes which make them stand out. They grow to just 25cm, so are ideal for the front of the border or rockery and like a sunny spot. Some bedding varieties are more compact and weather-resistant than others. Varieties including ‘Gazoo’ and ‘Kiss’ also stay open longer in overcast weather. Gazanias are drought tolerant but do benefit from regular deadheading. Match orange and yellow colours with sky blue Felicia or purple heliotrope.
GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT - Strawberries
It’s now strawberry season and while these delicious fruits of summer may come down in price in supermarkets for a while, they’ll be far tastier if you grow them yourself. If you’re growing them in containers, use 25cm (10in) pots filled with John Innes No. 3 potting compost and plant them up with young, pot-grown plants in spring, placing them in a sunny spot on the patio. When the flowers are over and the fruits start to form, cover them in insect-proof mesh and protect them from birds with netting. They need plenty of potash, so give them a liquid tomato feed once a week in summer. If you’re growing them in a border, plant young plants in August or September so they will be well established for cropping next summer. They need a sunny, sheltered spot with fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of well-rotted organic matter worked in. Each plant should yield around 225g (8oz) of fruit, so plant enough for your needs, spacing them in the bed around 45cm (18in) apart. They’re shallow-rooted, so you need to water well and keep weeds at bay. In early summer, lay straw or synthetic strawberry mats under the plants to stop the fruits getting damp and muddy. Once the whole crop has been picked, clip the plants with shears to remove old fruit stems, leaves and runners, feed the bed with a general purpose fertiliser and water it well, which will give it a good start for next year. Plants should be replaced every three to four years.